Stormy offseason sent message to Kris Letang, Penguins stars
Many words have been used to describe the four-game sweep at the hands of the New York Islanders that ended the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season in the first round of the playoffs in April.
Kris Letang came up with another phrase for it as he and 14 teammates gathered for an informal skate Tuesday morning at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
“I’m one year closer to retirement,” Letang said. “I try to make as much as I can (of) my time in the NHL. … We want to win every year. Maybe we wasted it one year last year, but this year is a new year. That’s the only thing I’m thinking of.”
As the Penguins learned repeatedly from 2010-15, wasted opportunities often lead to tumultuous offseasons. It was no different this summer as trade rumors swirled around Letang and Evgeni Malkin before Phil Kessel was dealt to Arizona.
With two days left until the start of training camp Friday, here are two thoughts Letang had about the Penguins’ offseason.
1. Kessel’s contributions
There’s a temptation to suggest that because the Penguins didn’t move Malkin or Letang, their offseason overhaul wasn’t as dramatic as expected.
Letang pushed back against that notion, pointing out moving Kessel is a significant change.
Take the power play, for example. For the past four seasons, the same five players have formed a potent top unit for the Penguins: Kessel, Letang, Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist.
Now, one of the first orders of business at training camp will be deciding on a new five-man configuration that doesn’t include Kessel’s playmaking acumen on the left half-wall.
“Obviously he’s a great player,” Letang said. “He was a good player on our power play, a good passer, a guy that can enter the zone with control. Somebody has to kind of take that role and maybe try to fill his spot, but maybe in a different way, maybe more of a shooting role or something like that. I don’t know. It’s too early to tell.”
2. Leave a message
By letting the rumors about Malkin and Letang fester before ultimately trading Kessel, it’s fair to suggest general manager Jim Rutherford intended to send a summer message to the players remaining on the team: Clean it up, or anyone not named Crosby can be moved out.
Whether that was Rutherford’s intention or not, that’s pretty much how Letang took it.
“We lost a guy who helped us win Stanley Cups,” Letang said. “It kind of sends you a message (about) how good the league is when you can trade guys like this and try to get better in different areas and try to change your lineup.
“It tells you that you have to bring your A game every night and try to be the best player out there. There’s so many good players. I’m pretty happy to be a Penguin one more year, I guess.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .